North Carolina’s right-wing controlled Supreme Court has once again done something unprecedented and harmful to our democracy and all it took was three sentences, WRAL reported.
The Supreme Court’s new powers were invented by the five Republican justices when they handed down a ruling on a case about a fired Durham police officer.
According to WRAL, the case in question involved an officer who was fired after he brought an armed standoff to an end by promising the suspect he could smoke a marijuana blunt if he gave himself up peacefully. The suspect surrendered and the officer let him smoke marijuana while handcuffed outside the officer’s cruiser. The officer was subsequently fired and he eventually filed a lawsuit against the police department.
The case eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court where “the justices were at a loss for what to do. There were multiple legal issues and no clear consensus on how the court should rule,” WRAL reported.
Republican Justice Richard Dietz wrote that “The justices’ questions revealed several alternative ways to decide the case, none of which could be reconciled with the others.”
Unable to come to a decision, the five Republicans decided they would just decline to make a ruling at all. Instead, they submitted a three-sentence opinion letting the Court of Appeals ruling stand, but they “unpublished” the decision, according to WRAL’s report. In simple terms, it means the ruling can’t be cited as precedent in any future employment cases in North Carolina.
Democratic Justice Michael Morgan said his Republican colleagues took the easy way out by declining to rule on the case.
Morgan wrote that because the conservatives on the court felt “discomfort” with some of the issues raised by the case, their decision to unpublish the ruling allows “the majority to proverbially bury its head in the sand and to neglect this Court’s obligation to answer necessary constitutional questions through the interpretation of state law.”
Morgan and Justice Anita Earls, the only other Democrat on the Supreme Court, wrote that their biggest concern wasn’t that Republicans punted on the ruling, but instead was with the procedural move they used to unpublish the Court of Appeals opinion. Morgan said that it was an unprecedented power grab.
As reported by WRAL, the move Republicans on the court used “is incredibly rare, and usually reserved for niche circumstances – none of which were present in this case.”
Morgan and Earls are concerned that the Republican majority is trying to invent a way for the court to unpublish Court of Appeals opinions whenever they want to and under any circumstances, without having to explain why.
“The Court is making a hasty and unexamined, yet fundamental and radically destabilizing shift in the authority to determine legal precedent,” Earls wrote in her dissent against the decision. “It has far-reaching implications for the jurisprudence of this state.”